Last week a group of young Jews, from across the community and with diverse perspectives, met in Parliament Square to publicly voice our grief over the situation in Gaza.
Since then we have been met with much outrage and a steady stream of questions.
How could you?
What would you have Israel do?
How dare you disrespect Judaism in this way?
Amid many other far less savoury comments.
A lot of people have approached me expecting me to answer all of the above and I have done my best to do so.
Why? Because I feel truly grief-stricken at a situation that seems to constantly generate despair and violence with no end in sight.
How could you? Because if we don’t start to recognise each other’s pain and grief then I don’t see how this ever ends.
What would you have Israel do? I would have Israel take meaningful steps towards alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza so that we didn’t get to this situation in the first place. I would have Israel be in a position whereby they could truly say “This is all Hamas” because Israel would have done all it could to support justice and the human rights of Palestinians.
- Our sickness: Falling for propaganda before waiting for facts on Gaza
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- Gaza victims’ links to Hamas were irrelevant – all that matters is their murder
How dare you? I dare because this is exactly what my Jewish tradition instructs that I must do.
However, the point of this article is not for me to answer these questions as I have no doubt that many of those posing them don’t wish to listen to my responses.
No, today I wish to pose some questions to my Jewish community in return.
I want to ask why our community is so comfortable with harassment, threats of violence and abusive language online and in person? In the end, all that we did last week was calmly and publicly express our viewpoints? Why is a community that has rightfully been fighting for freedom of speech on campus for years, happy to allow its members to intimidate and shout at any difference of perspective on Gaza? At what point did we as a community decide that a reasonable response to people using their voices was to attempt to shut that down with threats of violence? When did our standards of debate and discourse sink to the level of an abusive screaming match?
I am happy for people to disagree with what we did and to raise those concerns with me. I am happy for us to have a rigorous debate on the entire situation. I truly welcome learning and recognise that sometimes I might get things wrong. I have happily engaged in calm conversations with people from across my community this week about why I did what I did. Many of those talks have been truly humbling experiences. I believe that it is these respectful debates that are the only way in which we can have a healthy and cohesive Jewish community in the UK, despite our many differences. It is this belief, that makes me even more concerned that so many in our community have either engaged directly in harassment or sat by and watched it happen. I hope that in the future we as a community can return to our best culture of discourse, exemplified by the Talmud and its model of “arguments for the sake of heaven”.
However, those are not all my questions. I must press our community on its moral core.
I want to ask why there seems to be no space in our community to mourn death and violence? Why is it that the idea of grieving over deaths, that only take us further away from peace, is met by so much vitriol and harassment in our community? Why has our community forgotten that ‘to lose a life is to lose an entire world’? Why, when it comes to Palestinians, is our community so ready to declare that they deserve death? When did we stop choosing life so that we may live? Our tradition instructs us that on Pesach we should reduce our cup of wine to mourn the suffering inflicted on the Egyptians. A Midrash is told in my family at this point, that when G-d heard the angels celebrating the drowning of the Egyptian army in the sea, G-d declared “How can you celebrate? Don’t you see they are my creations too?”. When did we abandon this concept of Btselem Elohim, that we are all made in G-d’s image? When did we as a community decide to stop mourning the pain of the other, even our enemies?
I ask why there is no space for mourning in our community because I truly want our community to be one that supports peace and justice for all people in this conflict. I struggle to see how we can ever reach peace and coexistence if we can’t even recognise Palestinian deaths as sad. The Kaddish, that I recited last week, ends with a call for peace. That is no accident, for even the Rabbis knew, that it was only when we had properly mourned and reconciled with death that we have any hope of peace. So, I ask my community one question really.
When will we truly respect all humans on this earth, disagreeing with dignity and care, and mourning any loss of life as the tragedy that it is?